RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
When the U.S. went into Afghanistan after 9/11, President George W. Bush vowed not to get the U.S. bogged down in an unwinnable war like the Soviets did.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
GEORGE W. BUSH: It's been one of initial success, followed by long years of floundering and ultimate failure. We're not going to repeat that mistake.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Well, it is now 15 years later, and the U.S. is still in Afghanistan. It is the longest war in American history, and it's really not even close to being over yet.
MARTIN: The Trump administration is expected to soon release a new Afghanistan strategy, which will reportedly include some 4,000 additional troops. I recently spoke with General John Allen. He led NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013, which was the height of the troop surge there. I asked him whether President Bush was naive about what it would take to win that war.
JOHN ALLEN: I don't think he was naive, but I think we need to be realistic when we become involved in long-term efforts to deal with insurgencies, long-term efforts to give nations stability. We've got to be realistic about the timelines associated with those. You know, we have U.S. military forces that have been in countries for a very long time in the aftermath of conflict, and the presence of those forces was about creating the stable platform upon which, then, incredible governance could evolve and economic progress could be accomplished.
MARTIN: You took command during the surge, as I noted, when the U.S. coalition had more than 140,000 troops in Afghanistan. Today, the U.S. has just 8,400 troops there. So how can 13,000 U.S. troops accomplish what 140,000 could not?
ALLEN: Well, we're talking apples and oranges when we compare the 140,000 combat troops that we had with the 8,500 that we have today. First, let me just say that during the period of time that I commanded, we sought to do several things. One was to deal with the Taliban, to attempt to control that insurgency to buy time for the other thing that we were doing, which was building the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces to move into the lead to take over combat operations. And the third thing we were doing was helping to build capacity broadly across the Afghan government.
Now, the decisions were made in 2010 at the Lisbon summit that we would begin a drawdown to end combat operations in Afghanistan on the 31 of December, 2014. I think virtually everyone who has watched this process unfold would have said we needed more time.
MARTIN: Aren't these still the objectives? I mean, when you talk about the combat troops that were necessary and the troops that needed to work on development and securing the civil society and open up economic growth and to train and assist - these are still the same problems, right?
ALLEN: Well, that's right. And from my perspective, the number that we ultimately came upon was a number that was too few. And the drawdown was very precipitous. And the amount of time that we would have stayed in Afghanistan after 1 January, '15, was too short.
MARTIN: Donald Trump talked on the campaign trail about just getting out of Afghanistan altogether. As president, he has uttered the word Afghanistan hardly at all. Do you think the U.S. should just leave?
ALLEN: No, no. And I believe that the American partnership with Afghanistan and the - more broadly, the partnership as a community of nations with Afghanistan deserves to continue to provide Afghanistan the capacity to create that security platform necessary for long-term stability of the governance. And as long as we're able to stay on that trajectory - and it won't be a short-term commitment. It's going to be a long-term commitment, as we have done in other countries - we'll be able to establish stability in Afghanistan and turn this country over to the Afghans to run.
But if we cut and run just as we did at the end of the Soviet war, I don't think that we can have any expectation that the outcome will be different, which was a horrible civil war, the rise of the Taliban and all of the reasons that the Taliban ultimately created the platform for al-Qaida to do the planning necessary to attack us on the 11 of September, 2001. There's a direct-line relationship between those circumstances and what could happen again if we don't stick with Afghanistan in this case.
MARTIN: General John Allen - he commanded NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
General, thanks for your time.
ALLEN: Thank you, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF IAMBIC'S "DUSK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.